Interview with Jeffrey Haskey-Valerius
How did you become a writer?
I've always loved to write poetry and fiction and remember writing a short story for English class in 7th grade. It was apparently so good my teacher thought I'd plagiarized it; at the time I didn't know that, I was just angry she'd accused me. But that was my beginning in believing it was something I was good at and could keep doing. I eventually obtained a bachelor's degree in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago, where I learned so many valuable storytelling elements from other students as well as mentors and the very best of the best professors, who themselves were these ethereal, awe-inspiring, real-life writers themselves.
Could you share some of your challenges as a writer?
There are plenty. The biggest thing for me was always fear. Not only fear that I wasn't actually that good (which was always itching away at the back of my brain), but that I was wasting my life writing because of all this internalized pressure that writing isn't "a real job"—that you can't really succeed at being creative unless you're a famous musician or Stephen King or something. Even now I have so much fear that my book won't succeed. But at some point, you have to take a deep breath and tell your brain it's being stupid.
Do you have a routine you follow when writing?
White noise; nothing more, nothing less. I can't be around people when I work on projects. I don't do well in coffee shops, and I definitely can't have music on. I just get distracted so easily. (The internet is a real burden in that way too.) Complete silence is just as bad, so I've found a happy medium by keeping a fan on...which I incidentally also must have on when I go to bed.
What are your current/future projects?
In the near future, I plan to sit down and start turning Cyclopes' into a series, the first of which garnered the wonderful offer of representation from Stephanie. For right now, I'm working on an adult murder mystery and just recently hit a huge revelation in terms of its structure. It's multi-POV so it has the extra challenge of not only developing the mystery but successful arcs for each of the characters as well, and in a much more limited space than with a single POV. Hopefully the first draft of the manuscript will be ready in the next couple of months.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
DON'T STOP WRITING! It's so easy to give up, to allow the fear to wash over you and convince you to quit your dreams. It's so easy—and horrible—to 'take a break' and allow that break to stretch on and on and on until you eventually lose sight of the dream that once held so much weight. Not to be dramatic or anything; it happened to me. I let the fear take over, and it was so sad. Luckily, I found a way back and it has turned my life and mental health around. If I could go back in time, I would shake that younger version of me and force him to keep writing.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
You've got to read. You cannot be a writer and not simultaneously read books—they go hand in hand. Especially in your preferred genre, but across genres as well. Figure out what that author really blew out of the park or what they completely missed, and see if you can translate that into your own story. Has a book ever made you cry? Revisit that book and see how you can make that happen in your own writing. I'm a pretty slow reader, so I've just discovered the wonders of audiobooks. I can't clean the house or drive the car without listening to one now. I think I've read more audiobooks in the past year than I've read physical books, ever! (This may or may not actually be true, which gives me a lot of pause!)
Preferred mode of contact is on Twitter @jeffreyvalerius